Solar-powered roads could refuel cars as they drive

May 13, 2014

Solar Roadways seeks $1m by the end of the month to put its working prototype into production

Graphic design by Sam Cornett

A NETWORK of solar-powered roads made of durable textured glass could recharge electric vehicles while they're on the move, according to the founders of Solar Roadways.

Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer, and his wife Julie have already built a working prototype outside their electronics lab. Now they're hoping to put the idea into production using money raised through Indiegogo, a crowd-funding website.  

Where did the idea come from?
The pair set up the company after working on the idea of embedding solar-powered lights and heating elements into the road surface to improve safety at night or in icy conditions.

Having developed suitably rugged solar cells, they looked into how they might use them to generating electricity for the national grid – or to power the cars running over them.

In 2009 the couple received the backing of the US Federal Highway Administration, and they began testing their ideas with a team of researchers. In 2011, they were awarded a follow-up contract to build a solar-powered parking lot that could be tested in real-world weather conditions. 

What is a solar road?
Instead of asphalt or concrete, the surface of a solar road would consist of panels coated in super-strong, high-grip glass. They incorporate the heating element from the original prototype to keep them free from ice.

Underneath the glass sits a bank of solar cells which feed electricity into a “cable corridor” alongside the road. According to the Solar Roadways website, the new road “would pay for itself over time” by selling electricity to the grid.

How much energy could they produce?
A substantial amount, according to the creators. "We learned that the US had over 72,000 square kilometers of asphalt and concrete surfaces exposed to the sun,” Scott Brusaw told CNN. “If we could cover them with our solar road panels, then we could produce over three times the amount of energy that we use as a country." 

When will production start?
Production will begin once the project reaches its funding goal of $1m, for which the company has set a target date of May 31. The campaign has so far raised $100,000.

Solar road surfaces are likely to make their first appearances in car parks and driveways before being rolled out onto the road network.

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